by Austin Fernando
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has launched its Manifesto for the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) Elections. I am reminded of a former Prime Minster commenting on election Manifestoes as publications facilitating electoral victory and nothing more! If the TNA was of the same frame of mind and mood, it must be happy with their document, because it addresses some vote catching rhetoric, although beyond the capacity of the NPC to deliver.
Throughout I have been a supporter of devolution. Nevertheless, I believe that some propositions in the Manifesto should be addressed as they provide ammunition to anti-devolutionists to conceptually criticize devolution. I am confident that they will make the TNA “separatists’ / “chauvinists”. What TNA earns is not my concern, but using this TNA Manifesto to criticize power sharing / devolution is not to my liking. Hence, this critique or I might say, concerns of some issues arising from this Manifesto.
The first segment of the Manifesto is dealing with the “Tamil struggle”. Many have interpreted history in similar tone. Also, many have countered them. They are the rhetoric segment. I do not think these are the more important sections in the Manifesto. So much so, in this Manifesto TNA has even erred on dates e.g. on Oslo Communiqué- i.e. December 5th 2002 advanced to February 2002. I am uncertain whether there was a political motive for such erring.
To me the importance is the aftermath of the Oslo Communiqué. It is history. If Deputy Minister Karuna Amman or Adela Balasingham is queried, and if they are honorable, would explain how Prabhakaran reacted to the Communiqué. Balasingham’s avoidance of Vanni after Oslo was considered the immediate and continued consequence! TNA Manifesto abruptly stops at the Oslo Communiqué quote which is difficult to understand. Is the TNA upholding the Oslo Communiqué or reverberating Prabhakaran of December 2002? I believe the quote is to later reiterate in the Manifesto the components of the ‘State’ Prabhakaran envisaged. It brings votes! So why not!
The section titled ‘OUR STAND ON A POLITICAL SOLUTION’ shows much similarity to the “LTTE aspirations for an Eelam.” Hence, even a devolutionist like me will think twice or more on TNA’s NPC intentions and of devolution.
As seen below, these intentions are the repeat of what existed for three decades.
It is unfortunate that the TNA Manifesto looks at ‘ethnic casteism’ by considering that “the Tamil People of Sri Lanka are a distinct People in terms of the interpretations maintained in relation to International Conventions and Covenants.” These interpretations may apply to the Sinhalese and others who can in the same breath argue about their “distinct People” status? In that event, what is the “our country” TNA speaks of, because the country belong to others too? This leaves space for these others to speculate of what the TNA’s “our country” is- Sri Lanka or any other?
One saving grace in the Manifesto is that TNA wishes to enjoy their rights under a United Sri Lanka, but the preface to this aspiration is also with concern about Tamil “historic habitats”, Tamil “Collective Rights that accrue to Tamils as a Nation” and the “right to exercise our option” to self-determine (external or internal unknown), best ensuring self government in the “Tamil Speaking North-East”. It is giving with one hand and taking away with the other! This calls for questioning the status of the non-Tamil speaking population – i.e. rightly or wrongly, the majority that in the present context determines the establishment of a government rule in Sri Lanka.
Since the conceptual propositions in the Manifesto will be rejected by the government, one may suspect that the TNA created this status to engage the internationals influences to get the government to kneel down. Is it to make complaining representations to external forces based on the negative responses? Are the foci on international conventions and agreements for such purpose? I do not suspect that the legal luminaries in the TNA are unaware of the concerns mentioned in the paragraph above.
I agree the present constitutional arrangements have failed in finding accepted solutions to the national crisis and manipulations are ongoing. However, the current demand is to build bridges to close the vacuum in the political systems. It is true that equity, equality, peace and security have to emerge in a democratic country as envisaged in the TNA Manifesto. But, to consider that the “government in Colombo” does not hold the right to govern the Tamil People but the People themselves may fan chauvinism out of proportion to blow in to another long conflict, which will be a totally dismal and disastrous status. Again giving with one hand and withdrawing with the other! TNA should also note that unfortunately such fanning is already observable in the south.
The TNA seems to believe an authorized control of the North and East PCs through this Manifesto, which says “To achieve the above and self-reliance it is imperative that we need self-government. We have set out a two stage constitutional process to secure this. Whilst we do our utmost to play a positive role in promoting self-government for the Tamil Speaking Peoples in the North-East, we will carry on with our political negotiations for meaningful sharing of powers of governance. We cannot emphasize more the immediate necessity for a democratically elected body with legislative, executive and fiscal powers – to take over those functions of government rightly belonging to us.” While negotiations for meaningful sharing of powers of governance, over functions rightly belonging to NPC (under 13th Amendment) is appreciated, if it thinks that it could encroach to the constitutional rights of the State, it may bring devastating results, sadly inheriting only an undeliverable Manifesto.
Such encroachment may cause what TNA fears in the last paragraph of the Manifesto. It says “….. The human costs are not only the result of direct violence – casualties among combatants, undisciplined behavior of troops, deliberate targeting of civilians and the sowing of landmines – but also arise from hunger, forced migration and the collapse of public services due to the breaking down of the economic and administrative structure of the North-East.” Of course, in the past this was not only the curses of the successive governments that led the military, but equally or more due to LTTE’s (as accepted by the Manifesto which demands independent investigation of LTTE too) direct and indirect actions.
I wish that GOSL, especially the elements who have been fighting hard to erase the 13 Amendment will not take the cue to provoke government authorities to hit back on account of this Manifesto. Concurrently, even as an afterthought it is up to the TNA to consider that the Manifesto is only a means to come to power. TNA ought to think a bit far than those who challenge it in the Tamil political arena (like Gajan Ponnambalam) who do not believe in any southern governmental blessing for sharing power.
If not, if the TNA means to deal business in this manner it calls for trouble at a time, as Dayan Jayatileka has pronounced, when it needs “to carry a sizeable segment of Southern opinion with it at all times or at least neutralize Southern opposition to the Council..” TNA may win the NPC election, but it should not face the situation predicted by Dayan, re: “It is about to happen again and this time the collision is more certain and will perhaps prove more consequential. One miscalculation could lead to protracted deadlock and worse still, a strategic politico-military lockdown.”
Though I would not totally agree with S. Sivathasan’s proposal (in Colombo Telegraph) for a TNA Manifesto, I might hurriedly add that the TNA leadership and Chief Minister candidate both could learn a lot of lessons for a reconciliatory, practical and deliverable Manifesto, if Siva is emulated, rather than being too rhetoric and proposing a lot of undeliverable, unauthorized promises as seen in the table above, proving that the former Prime Minister quoted at the beginning right.
Still I have some relief, thinking that the former Supreme Court Judge and Chief Minister candidate Vigneswaran will balance the situation, as he has originally stated regarding operating with the GOSL.I wish that he would prove that the victory at the NPC election is not the final solution to the crisis.